Italian word of the day: ‘Dai’

Come on, you must have heard this versatile word before.

Italian word of the day: 'Dai'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Today's word isn't so much a word as a sound: dai, pronounced – approximately – 'dye-yuh!'

Luckily it's simpler to translate than it is to transcribe phonetically: it means something like 'come on'.

Dai, andiamo!
Come on, let's go!

It's beautifully versatile for one little word. You can yell it at your favourite team to encourage them (or to tell them they need to do better), whisper it to a friend to invite them to go ahead, or whine it pleadingly to get someone to give in.

Dai, sbrigatevi!
Come on, hurry up!

Dai, resta ancora un po'.
Go on, stay a bit longer.

Dai, dai, ti prego Papà!
Oh go on, go on, please Dad!

Its various tones are hard to pinpoint, but according to one Italian dictionary, adding 'but' in front of it makes it sound incredulous…

– Io preferisco la pizza americana.
– Ma dai!

– I prefer American pizza.
– Oh come on!

… while prefacing it with 'and' indicates irritation and impatience.

 – Non è giusto però!
– E dai! Smettila.

– But it's not fair!
– Come on! Stop that.

However you use dai, do it with conviction. You can stretch out its vowels as long as you dare, and if you wish to repeat it a few times for emphasis or accompany it with an exasperated flourish of the hand, well, we won't judge you. Daaaaaaiii!

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Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

Can you fathom the meaning of this word?

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

If you haven’t yet found a proper Italian word to describe the unintelligible collection of dots, wonky lines and swirls that Italian doctors often nonchalantly passes off as a prescription, scarabocchio might do the trick.

Scarabocchio is the Italian equivalent of ‘scribble’ or ‘scrawl’ and it describes to any piece of writing or drawing whose meaning can’t be fathomed. 

Ho lasciato la lista della spesa sul tavolo!

Si, l’ho vista ma non ci ho capito niente. Era tutto uno scarabocchio…

I left the shopping list on the table!

Yes, I saw it but couldn’t understand any of it. It was all a scribble…

From a five-year-old’s abstract artworks to a colleague’s poor excuse for a handwritten note, you can use scarabocchio for pretty much anything – as long as it figures on a piece of paper. 

Though it is a bit of a mouthful (pronunciation available here), Italians love to use the word in daily conversations, especially so when it comes to mocking the unfortunate author of the scribble. 

Ti ho fatto uno schema per farti capire meglio.

Ma cos’e’ ‘sta cosa? Mi sembra proprio uno scarabocchio…

I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand.

What on earth is this? It looks like a scrawl to me…

The word comes from the fusion of scarabeo (beetle) and the pejorative suffix -occhio (also used in ranocchio, meaning ‘ugly frog’, and marmocchio, meaning ‘bratty kid’). 

Though today’s scribbles may not resemble the shape of a beetle, they most likely did back in the days when poor handwriting skills would result in your quill creating circular blots of ink on the paper.

That’s why, to this day, Italians refer to scribbles as ‘ugly beetles’. 

Funnily enough, sgorbio, one of scarabocchio’s synonyms, also takes its name from an animal, namely the scorpion. But that’s a story for another time.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.